Separation and divorce are highly stressful and emotional situations, especially when children are involved. There are so many issues to resolve before either party can truly move on. One of the most important issues to settle is the financial ones – like who is going to be financially dependent on the other spouse or how the parents will divide paying for the children's expenses.
Sometimes, parties can make these decisions on their own. However, most former couples end up going to court to have a decision made and formalized. In Cambria County, Pennsylvania, the Courts of Common Pleas oversee both child support and spousal support decisions.
While you can file for child or spousal support on your own, it can be an overwhelming process. Working with a skilled family law attorney is the best way to ensure your case is heard fully. LLF Law Firm Family Law Team is here to help. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.
Expectation of Financial Support
Under Pennsylvania law, spouses are expected to support each other financially while they are married if they can. Additionally, they are expected to support their minor children (and, in some cases, their children over 18 years old). As such, when spouses decide to separate or file for divorce, they need to resolve issues of child support and spousal support. However, the amount and frequency of support for either issue depends on several factors.
Child support is defined as payments that are made by one spouse to the other spouse to help cover the costs of providing for their children. In Cambria County, PA, child support is determined by the court and is based on the cost of the child's basic needs – like electricity and air conditioning, food, clothing, shelter, and education. Usually, the parent who has physical custody (the child lives with them) will be the one receiving child support from the other parent.
How Child Support is Calculated
Pennsylvania, like many other states in the U.S., has created a method for determining child support amounts. The amounts listed in the legislation only reflect the parent's basic financial responsibilities for their child. The court can amend this amount to reflect the reality of that particular child's needs.
To calculate child support in Cambria County, the court will look at the following influences:
- The child's age.
- The child's specific support need, if any.
- Other household income.
- The other spouse's income and assets.
- Other financial obligations the spouses have.
- What is in the child's best interest.
For example, if the court hears that the non-custodial parent is also paying spousal support, or if they discover the child's standard of living will be seriously affected by a low child support payment, it will influence their decision.
How Long Child Support Lasts
In general, child support payments last until the child turns 18 years old. However, support payments can last past that age or be terminated well before it. Usually, though, the only times it is terminated before the age of majority is if the child is emancipated, making the parent no longer responsible for their care or finances.
Unlike child support, spousal support is not dependent on the couple having had children. In this case, one spouse is helping to support the other spouse financially for a specific period of time. For example, the spousal support may only last until the divorce is finalized. Other times, it may last for several years.
Types of Spousal Support
In Pennsylvania, there are different types of spousal support, but they were all created to ensure the financially dependent spouse is not left destitute. The type of support you will want to claim will depend on a number of factors, including what stage of the divorce process you are at.
- Spousal support. These payments are made to help one spouse meet their basic living expenses and other reasonable expenses while separated and before formally divorcing.
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL). This type of alimony is usually awarded while a divorce action is pending. While both APL and spousal support offer similar financial help, they cannot be active at the same time.
- Post-divorce alimony. Courts will determine this type of alimony after a divorce is finalized. The point of such support is to prevent the spouse from relying on state benefits to meet their reasonable ongoing expenses.
Another form of financial support is equitable reimbursement. This support is for spouses whose income temporarily drops after divorce. It allows the disadvantaged spouse time to complete their education or training to increase their earning potential.
How Spousal Support is Calculated
Unfortunately, there is no automatic right to spousal support or alimony like there is to child support. Because of this, you will need a court to make the formal decision for you both.
Typically, a court will only award spousal support or alimony if they believe it is reasonable and necessary. To determine if the request is reasonable and necessary, the court will look at:
- The length of the marriage.
- Both spouses' earning potential.
- Their actual income.
- Other anticipated income.
- Limitations on their earning potential.
Court Orders for Child Support
For the most part, the spouse who needs financial assistance will file for child and/or spousal support. If the court believes that financial assistance is warranted, it will determine how much and how long the paying party is required to help. Despite the fact that this is a civil court order if a court determines that it has been violated in any way, the violating party may face criminal penalties.
The Court Process in Cambria County, PA
All support proceedings in Cambria County follow specific procedures, including interviews, conferences, and court hearings. It is a long and exhausting process that can be highly nuanced and confusing. It is important to hire an experienced family law attorney to ensure you get the best possible outcome for your case.
Filing for Support in Cambria County, PA
To receive child and/or spousal support, you must file for it. If you and your ex are filing for divorce, the alimony request will be included in the complaint. But, if you wish to file for APL or child support, you must go through the Cambria County Domestic Relations Office, which is part of the Cambria County Family Court Division. In addition, if you are trying to amend an existing support order, you will also want to contact this office for help.
While child support and alimony requests can be consolidated into divorce proceedings, they generally always require a separate discussion phase before they can actually get resolved. In fact, most child and spousal support negotiations, as well as discussions about the division of property, will be held in a separate court conference.
Either support conference will be overseen by a court-appointed Master who specializes in the type of support being discussed. Masters attempt to mediate between the parties, giving them the space to express their fears. When a court conference is scheduled, it is important to inquire as to whether your attorney can be present and participate in it. LLF Law Firm will ensure that attorneys are available for every step of these proceedings to provide coaching prior to and during the conference.
During the conference, if an agreement cannot be made, the petition may proceed to a hearing. When this happens, the parties' arguments will be heard by a judge who will determine what kind of support the requesting party should receive and how long it should last.
Unlike other types of hearings, child support and spousal support hearings require that both parties attend. If one party does not show up, the judge will still hear the other side's argument. They will then make their decision on that unilateral presentation.
Why You Need an Attorney
Technically, you do not need a lawyer to petition for child or spousal support in Cambria County. That being said, having one on your side from the beginning will ensure your success. Often, individuals decide to file for support on their own and end up presenting unnecessary or irrelevant evidence that is completely ineffective. When this happens, you may be forced to pay a high sum of child or spousal support or left without the necessary child or spousal support to provide for yourself and your family.
Moreover, support proceedings are highly contingent on deadlines and proper documentation. It is crucial that you not only complete the correct paperwork but that you show up on time for your conferences and hearings. If you are late or miss a deadline, the court can hold that against you. Your attorney will ensure that all your paperwork is in order, that you have included pertinent evidence, and that you have witness testimonies that will ultimately support a desirable outcome.
LLF Law Firm Family Law Team is here to help.
Appealing a Support Decision in Cambria County, PA
There are instances when a family law decision will be undesirable. When this happens, you have the right to file a Motion for Reconsideration with the Family Court in Cambria County. Similar to child support and spousal support award cases, appeals for such awards are highly dependent on firm deadlines and specific paperwork. Prior to filing an appeal, it is important to speak to an attorney with experience.
Modifying a Court Order
Whether you want to increase or decrease the child or spousal support award, you have the right to petition the court for that modification. In some cases, though, the parties may decide to implement their own modification agreement. When this happens, the informal agreement made outside of court must be ratified by the court to replace the previous order.
Enforcing a Court Order
In Pennsylvania, courts have the authority to enforce child support, spousal support, or any type of alimony order. When a party is refusing to pay the required amount, the court can:
- Require the violating party to supply collateral or security to ensure future payments.
- Enter an additional judgment against them.
- Seize up to 50% of their wages.
- Seize other property, including payments they receive or investments.
- Add interest to the missed support payments.
Violating a Support Order
Child support, spousal support, and alimony orders are legally binding. Meaning if the paying spouse does not make the required payments or they disobey the order in some other way, they can be held in contempt. Contempt of court is a criminal charge that would force the paying spouse to endure up to six months in jail and/or significant fines.
If you are having a hard time making support payments for any reason, it is important to petition for a modification. If you wait until you are arrested for failing to make payments, it can have disastrous consequences on your life outside of the criminal penalties. For instance, it can affect your ability to purchase a home, rent an apartment, apply for a car loan, or even continue to work in your current role.
Retain a Cambria County, Pennsylvania Support Attorney
Child and spousal support decisions have lasting effects. The best way to ensure you are successful in your case is to hire a Cambria County family law attorney.
LLF Law Firm Family Law Team has years of experience helping families and individuals all over the state of Pennsylvania. Whether you want to file for a support order, have one amended, or have been charged with contempt of court for non-payment, our competent and experienced attorneys can help.